Leslie is Co-Founder and Principal of The Artemis Fund, the first female-founded, female-focused VC fund based in Houston, and now Park City, investing in founders throughout the US. The Artemis Fund invests in tech-enabled seed and series A stage companies founded and led by women.
Leslie's experience as a dedicated angel investor since 2014 in over 45 companies, as an LP (Limited Partner) in six other VC funds, and as a member of the Investment Committee of the Blue Ivy Venture Fund, led her to establish The Artemis Fund with her two partners, Diana Murakhovskaya and Stephanie Campbell. Together, the trio brings a cross generational perspective, diverse backgrounds (MBA, JD and engineer/wall street trader) and a huge network for deal sourcing and vetting companies.
In addition, Leslie is a board member of the Houston Angel Network, a board and advisory board member of early stage companies, a member of the Programming Committee of NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors), and a speaker on Venture Capital financing, diversity in the startup community, and angel investing.
Prior to founding The Artemis Fund, Leslie spent over 25 years as a corporate lawyer both in private practice and in-house (as a General Counsel) and then three years recruiting C-suite legal executives as a member of Major, Lindsey & Africa ("MLA"), the nation's leading executive legal search firm. She also
worked with the Board & Corporate Governance practice of MLA’s sister company, Allegis Partners, to assist with identifying and placing diverse talent on boards.
You are one of the few female General Partners in any VC fund? How do we encourage more women to get involved in venture capital?
For starters, we need to introduce more women to the world of investing and, in particular, angel investing. We have to educate them about alternatives to the public markets (assuming they are investing at all) and probably more importantly, the fact that they can have a huge impact investing in innovation.
Many women feel comfortable devoting their time and resources to philanthropic endeavors. What if we could show those women that investing in something that will improve lives – like a company that creates biodegradable clothes from methane gas, or a company that creates an off-the-grid farming solution to solve the hunger issues in third world countries (and developed countries for that matter). Or how about a company that addresses a long overlooked woman’s health issue related to childbirth, or one that gives the unbanked an opportunity to thrive – AND could provide them with a return on that investment that they can then use again to invest in another impactful company, is another avenue for them to consider?
Once we have more women investing, it will necessarily lead to more women wanting to pool dollars together and create a fund.
When did you start The Artemis Fund?
We began working on the fund in earnest about one year ago. It took six months or so of pre-work in order to launch it. We officially launched in April and began fundraising in earnest in mid-April this year.
How many female founded or cofounded companies have you invested in to-date?
We are raising rounds around our investments. So, we have invested in two companies thus far and we have closed funding rounds as we announced those companies. We do this in order to preview the portfolio companies to prospective LPs and provide insight into our decision making. We are looking to invest in two more companies in the next 3-4 months and at least 6 in 2020. We expect to invest in about 15 with fund I, since we will reserve about 60% of the $20M for follow-on rounds.
Our first company, U-Nest, is a fin-tech company that provides access to college savings to a broader population through an app. You can create a 529 College savings plan, powered by Invesco, in under 5 minutes with as little as $25 per month.
Our second company, soon to be announced, provides a solution to mobility problems for schools, the foster care system and individuals by providing safe transportation for young children.
Next, we are looking at a company that has created the first of its kind medical device for women that will address an issue almost every woman faces as a result of childbirth, and later in life. Every single woman will be able to appreciate the product and, ultimately, will take it for granted as the standard of care.
We are also working with a company that provides a solution for providing food in areas that desperately need it, but that have no electricity to power a thriving agriculture.
How do you seek out these companies or are you getting an influx of applications? How do these companies find you?
We are getting an influx of applications (200-300 per month) from all different sources: founders, VCs, incubators, syndicates, angel groups, etc. all over the country. Some of it comes from the fact that the three of us have separate networks due to our backgrounds – me as a serial angel investor, Diana Murakhovskaya as a founder of a successful NY accelerator program for woman, and Stephanie Campbell as the leader of the Houston Angel Network (most active in the country) and as chair of many innovation initiatives in Houston. In addition, once we launched and announced that we are a female-focused fund, the press picked up the story in multiple articles. As a result, word got out and the “elusive” (as our male VC counterparts would say) female founders flooded our inbox and continue to do so.
We also actively source by attending demo days, founder universities, pitch competitions, angel network gatherings, etc. throughout the country. These activities provide additional deal flow.
You just moved to Salt Lake City from Houston? Why Salt Lake City, what makes this city so special?
Utah is magical. Park City is awe-inspiring. We have been coming to Park City for years and I have always wanted to set some roots here. I love the outdoors and the community has been overwhelmingly welcoming. And there is a concerted effort by community members to bring more innovators, founders and funders to Utah. I, of course, want to focus on the gender diversity aspect.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My investments. I continue to angel invest as soon as I garner the funds to do it. Other than my kids’ education, that is where I spend my money.
What is your current state of mind?
Life is good and, as long as my family and I are healthy, there is no reason not to smile and try to make others do the same. Plus, I am a true extrovert and love connecting people.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Being selfless. You can’t be happy if you don’t take care of yourself first. If you do, you will have so much more to give to others.
On what occasion do you lie?
To avoid hurting someone. It’s the right thing to do sometimes if telling the truth would not be productive.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My age is showing in various obvious places. I don’t like my arms and legs at this point. Also, I hate that every year, it gets harder to maintain my weight, no matter what I do.